The Escalade was introduced for the 1999 model year in response to German and Japanese competitors and to Ford's 1998 release of the Lincoln Navigator. The Escalade project went into production only ten months after it was approved.
The introduction of the Lincoln Navigator in the 1998 model year necessitated that General Motors be able to compete in the burgeoning American market for full-size luxury-type trucks. This generation was only a five-seat SUV. The first Escalade was a largely unsuccessful endeavor from the start. Fearing the growing hegemony of the Lincoln Navigator, the Escalade was rushed through the design process to reach dealers quickly. Essentially little more than a badge-engineered GMC Yukon Denali, the SUV's aesthetics were similar to the Denali and the final vehicle was smaller than the Navigator. The Escalade's under were borrowed from the Denali line, with the GMC logos on the center caps replaced with Cadillac's crest. The Escalade also used the same 5.7 L Vortec 5700 V8 at 255 hp. All first-generation Escalades featured Autotrac selectable 4x4. The interior featured all leather seats with the Escalade logo sprinkled all over the car. It also had a Bose surround system–a first for SUVs. The Escalade also used a slightly different gauge cluster from the standard Tahoes/Yukons. The Escalade gauges featured white needles instead of the standard orange and the speedometer reads to 120 mph.
Source: Wikipedia, 2012